29 Sep Wahl Mute on Firing from Legislative IT Bureau — but politics could be to blame
Mark Wahl, jettisoned last week from his position as director of the nonpartisan Legislative Technology Services Bureau (LTSB, is mum on the reasons for his ouster.
And while Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer, (R-West Bend) cited the results of an audit of the bureau’s performance as the motivation for the firing, a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo) said the move was simple politics.
The LTSB is the exclusive entity providing technological support to the Wisconsin Legislature and its service agencies. The bureau handles everything from office automation to payroll and accounting to database support — from Internet access and bill drafting to publication of statutes, administrative code and other legal documents.
“I enjoyed my time at the legislature and I am looking forward to new challenges,” Wahl said, adding that he was not in a position to comment further. A spokesperson for Panzer said the audit report cited by the Senator could not be released because it dealt with an ongoing personnel matter. Representatives of the LTSB did not return calls or refused to comment on the firing.
Gard spokesperson Steve Baas implied that despite Panzer’s pronouncement about the audit, Wahl’s position was the victim of the change of power in the legislature.
“The head of LTSB is an at-will employee, and often when a new set of leaders come in, they want their own person there,” Baas said. “We have also had turnover in the chief clerk and sergeant at arms in the Assembly. They wanted someone of their choosing. It is not a direct reflection of Mark, but it is the nature of the beast in those at-will employee positions.”
Baas added that the legislature has the LTSB as its own IT entity – separate from the state system run by the Department of Administration – for reasons having to do with separation of powers.
“It would seem to make sense as a management issue and as a separation of powers issue,” Baas said. “We have separate legislative audit and technologies bureaus. You have these service agencies for every branch of government.”
Baas denied that Wahl’s firing had anything to do with Wahl’s participation in court cases relating to public access to legislators’ electronic correspondence.
“That wasn’t involved in the decision,” Baas said. “There have been some court cases on what the nature of the emails are — whether LTSB is the custodian of those records. He was there at the bureau when those questions were being asked – that was the extent of his involvement.”
In court briefs filed by Wahl, the CIO maintained that files maintained by the LTSB were not subject to Wisconsin’s open records law.
According to the Supreme Court’s opinion in the case of John Doe vs. State of Wisconsin;
“The records of legislators may not be obtained under the open records law from LTSB. Wisconsin Stat. § 19.35(1) provides that any requester has a right to inspect any record, ‘[e]xcept as otherwise provided by law.’ Section 13.96 provides that legislative data maintained by LTSB shall be confidential at all times. Wahl’s interpretation of § 13.96 does not lead to an anomalous result. When read together, the interplay of § 13.96 and § 19.35(1) mandates that requests for the records of legislators cannot be directed to LTSB. Section 13.96 is a clear statement of legislative policy and constitutes a specific exception to the public records law.”
Since Wahl’s ouster, the LTSB has appointed as interim manager Terry Anderson. Anderson is heading up a nationwide search for Wahl’s replacement. The job posting lists as requirements eight years of IT experience and a bachelor’s degree.
Charles Rathmann is a freelance writer and contributor to Wisconsin Technology Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.